The Rez Sisters | Critical Review by William Peel

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of The Rez Sisters.
This section contains 774 words
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Critical Review by William Peel

SOURCE: A review of The Rez Sisters, in Canadian Theatre Review, No. 65, Winter, 1990, pp. 62-4.

In the following excerpt, Peel discusses the characters and narrative structure of The Rez Sisters.

Tomson Highway succeeds in creating a striking cast of characters who reveal both blemishes and beauty, and possess, on the whole, great human dignity. His The Rez Sisters tells the tale of seven Indian women living on a reserve in northern Ontario who one day decide to travel to Toronto to attend "the Biggest Bingo in the World." The women are sisters, half-sisters, and sisters-in-law, and their ages range from the 20s to the 50s. The polarities and contradictions of their characters reflect the polarities and contradictions of the world in which they live: poverty-stricken, crude and cruel, and at the same time rich in beauty, vitality, and tenderness.

Highway has carved out a number of memorable portraits. Among these are Pelagia Patchnose who hammers shingles onto the roof of her house, when she'd much rather use her bingo-won hammer to knock some sense into the band chief and get the reserve's roads paved; Philomena Moosetail whose aspirations to gentility are directed into an unrelenting pursuit of "bathroom beautiful"; Emily Dictionary, a former battered wife and motorcycle gang member, who keeps the name of her abusive ex-husband, "the man who made me learn to fight back"; and Marie-Adele Starblanket who at 39 has had 14 children (each one designated by a board in her 14-post white picket fence) and who now battles cancer.

Highway's achievement lies not only in the characters he has created, but in his masterful orchestration of the action through which these characters are revealed. Before becoming a playwright, Highway trained as a classical musician, and he brings a truly musical sense of composition to the structuring of his work. One scene in particular, a fight at the reserve's general store/post office involving all seven women, is a masterpiece in terms of rhythmic development and the interweaving of a variety of voices. Another, the women's manic fund-raising campaign for their trip to Toronto, is superbly theatrical in its mimed, ever-accelerating action. In fact, from the opening moments to the end of the play, Highway's compositional control and acute sense of dynamic rhythm never fail to impress.

Daniel David Moses, Delaware Poet and Playwright, on the Rez Sisters:

The majority of Native people, forced to inhabit ignored, economically disadvantaged areas called reserves, are not encouraged to regard their own lives as important. The accomplishment of The Rez Sisters is that it focuses on a variety of such undervalued lives and brings them up to size. The passion that drives the characters is suddenly easy to recognize and the theatrical daring that invites the audience members to play a game of Bingo along with the play's characters is both a pleasure and a measure of the playwright's wisdom. We literally play along, experiencing for ourselves the Rez Sisters' passion.

Daniel David Moses, in Canadian Fiction Magazine, 1987.

Highway on Native Mythology:

We have a mythology that is thousands and thousands of years old, which was almost destroyed, or some of it obliterated, by the onslaught of missionaries and affected by Christian religion.

But, I suppose, when you do that to something, inevitably, the spirit of it survives even more strongly, and the mythologies too. It's coming back, it's still very much alive. It just went underground.

It's still very much alive in our spirits, although it's not an intellectual thing necessarily. But the spirit is still infused with it—our people. And the vitality, and the relevancy of it, and the immediacy of it are very much with us. Whereas we have people—and the way our writing is coming on proves it—that you know there is this connection with God. There is a spirituality that still is so powerful and beautiful and passionate! Whereas, in the case of mainstream culture here on this continent, both American and Canadian, we find that the mythology that they came over with is—their relationship to that mythology is really an academic relationship. It's not a living thing any more. So it was lost along the way.

Tomson Highway, in an interview with Hartmut Lutz, in Contemporary Challenges: Conversations with Canadian Native Authors, Fifth House Publishers, 1991.

As a playwright Highway openly acknowledges his debt to James Reaney and Michel Tremblay, and the inspiration of the latter is particularly evident in The Rez Sisters. Obviously Highway had Tremblay's Les Belles Soeurs—complete with its "Ode to Bingo"—very much in mind as he wrote. Yet Highway's voice is distinctively his own. The depth of his characterizations and the original flair of his compositional ability cannot be denied.

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This section contains 774 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by William Peel